Health & Medicine

19th-century statue is moved to Sutter’s new Sacramento maternity hospital

A marble sculpture of a mother and two young children that has stood in Sutter maternity wards for 90 years was installed Monday at the hospital chain’s new women’s and children’s center in midtown Sacramento.

The 1887 Greco-Roman-style statue, called “Maternity,” was returned to the same block where she was originally installed in 1925 by a Sacramento doctor with an eye for art.

The figure by Belgian sculptor Alphonse Van Beurden Sr. has been admired by patients and staff through the years. An account about the sculpture from the hospital’s archives calls the nearly life-size creation a “beautiful tribute to motherhood.”

“It represents the aspect of maternal,” said Aneen Heller, nurse director of the postpartum unit. “It feels right for her to be with us again. Everyone feels she belongs here.”

The statue depicts a woman holding an infant at her hip while a toddler appears to beg for her attention. In 2004, a similar 29-inch sculpture by the same artist called “La Jalousie” (French for “Jealousy”) sold for $15,000 at an auction house, according to Sutter.

“You see in the sculpture what all mothers feel: she is holding one baby and the other is needing her at the same time,” said Heller. “It represents the true life of a mother.”

The statue is well-traveled, and not just during its several stops in Sacramento. Van Beurden’s work was displayed in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the Royal Academy of Arts Summer Exhibition in London.

There, according to the Sutter Hospital account, sugar magnate Claus Spreckels, or his son Adolf and Adolf’s San Francisco art patron wife, Alma Spreckels, acquired it for the family’s vast collection.

Alma Spreckels persuaded her husband to build the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, completed in 1924. Alma Spreckels purchased Rodin’s “The Thinker,” and it is one of the earliest acquisitions of the more than 70 Rodin sculptures that she bought and later donated to the Legion of Honor.

However, the “Maternity” statue, which was displayed after purchase outside at a Spreckels family estate, would not end up in the Legion of Honor.

One of Sutter Hospital’s pioneering physicians, Junius “June” Harris, an amateur art devotee, found the statue in a Geary Street auction house about 1924, around the time of Adolf Spreckels’ death. The statue was up for sale as part of the process of settling the estate, according to the Sutter account.

No record exists of what Harris paid for the statue, but family said it was around $100, according to Sutter. Harris and his friend, Dr. Roy A. Green, hired a truck and brought the statue to Sacramento, where the two went about restoring the piece on their weekends.

After being cleaned up, it was placed in the main hall at Sutter Hospital in midtown until 1937. Then, movers trucked the statue to East Sacramento with the opening of Sutter Maternity Hospital, later called Sutter Memorial.

The statue resided in all its glory first in the lobby and then on the third-floor unit where mothers and babies rested after birth.

When the hospital closed this year, the statue headed back to midtown. Now, once again, it will serve as a backdrop for family photos.

The statue weighs 1,100 pounds, and Sutter needed to get state earthquake expert approval before installing and anchoring the sculpture over a beam.

On Monday, a ceremony was held to mark the return of “Maternity.” Nurses, doctors and other staff members gathered on the sixth floor of the new Anderson Lucchetti Women’s and Children’s Center – the current spot for labor, delivery and high-risk service.

When mothers in labor exit the elevator as they arrive to deliver their babies, they will once again see “Maternity.”

Bill Lindelof: 916-321-1079, @Lindelofnews

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